. (AP) — Historically black colleges and universities have once again been hit disproportionately hard with NCAA-imposed penalties based on Academic Progress Rates.
Charles McClelland, commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, knows that his members face many challenges in that regard, including fewer financial resources and lower admission standards.
He also understands that meeting those NCAA standards is just part of HBCUs competing in Division I.
“We’re not going to allow any obstacle or any excuse to stop us from achieving our goal,” said McClelland, a former athletic director at SWAC member schools Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M. “It might just take us longer to get there because we do have limited resources and we do have our historical mission that (includes) taking those that might not necessarily be ready for college, get them ready for college, educate them and then get them on the other end for graduation.
“We take extreme pride and joy in doing that, but sometimes that means that our numbers might be behind. But we’re not going to apologize for our mission and we’re not going to apologize for what we do, because we make a significant impact in this society."
The NCAA announced penalties on 23 teams Tuesday, including 18 from HBCUs. SWAC member Alabama A&M joined Stephen F. Austin as the only athletic programs having three teams on that list.
The Bulldogs received postseason bans in men’s basketball, men’s track and field and women’s soccer.
In-state rival Alabama State also faces a postseason ban in men’s basketball, while Southern, Grambling State and Prairie View A&M were also hit with bans in other sports.
New Alabama State hoops coach Mo Williams, a longtime NBA player who was formally introduced Wednesday, went to college at the far wealthier University of Alabama.
He said Alabama State has the resources to meet the academic goals.
“Alabama State is a great, great, great university,” Williams said. “The resources, what's available for us is really what we need. We can get it done with what we've got.”
Teams posting a four-year APR score below 930, which predicts a 50% graduation rate, can be penalized.
The average APR scores at HBCUs has risen from 913 in 2009-10 to 958 or higher each of the past four years, with eligibility and retention rates also making similar leaps, according to NCAA data.
The rates of HBCU teams scoring under 930 went from 44% a decade ago to 21% this year and even lower the previous three.
McClelland notes that SWAC schools have far fewer academic support staffers than big-money schools like Auburn and Alabama inside his own state. He has reorganized the league's compliance office to help boost APR and graduation numbers.
“The mission of our member institutions is to serve the historically underserved,” he said. “We still have a predominantly first-generation student and a predominantly first-generation student athlete to attend our institutions.
“The majority of our students cannot get into the Ivy League, the University of Alabama or Auburn. Our admission standards are not as high.”
McClelland can point to his own experiences for hope of continued progress. When he took over the athletic program in 2008, Texas Southern had a 29% graduation rate for athletes. It more than doubled during his tenure.
“There’s a lot of things that have to be done and a lot of our institutions are in the middle of making that change,” McClelland said. “We know it can be done and that’s why we embrace Division I standards. It can be done but it’s not an overnight process.”